The death of Stalin is a 2017 film made by the Scottish director Armando Iannucci (not your typical Scottish name…) with an exceptional mostly-Anglo-American cast: Steve Buscemi, Jason Isaacs, Michael Palin… and so on and so forth. The film shows us Stalin’s last night, reunited with his most loyal men, and then the days immediately following his death. Although sold as a comedy, I didn’t laugh much when watching this movie, and not because of the lack of brilliance of the actors or dialogues. Let me explain.
The film is so well done that we find ourselves completely immersed in 1953 Soviet Union. The problem is that 1953 Soviet Union was a dictatorial regime ruled with violence and terror, and the film manages to make us understand that aspect perfectly! So I couldn’t really laugh at all those jokes that, even if objectively funny, were dropped in a frankly terrifying context… The film shows us summary executions, imprisoned people, torture, and ordinary people who survive in the constant fear of the police, of the army, and of other normal people who could report them as disloyal for no reason at all!
So where does the comedy come from, you may ask? It comes from the interaction between the various Malenkov, Khrushchev, Molotov, Beria, Zhukov… that the movie shows us as powerful, stupid, and insecure persons who, at the same time, are also capable of terrible decisions and scary behaviors. The thing that scared me the most, and that prevented me from laughing, is that it all seemed to me tremendously truthful. This is not a movie claiming to reflect historical facts accurately, such as Darkest hour, but I believe that what we see on screen is not that different from what happened in reality. And this happens because many of the things we see on screen are in fact real: the circumstances of the death of Stalin, Beria depicted as a serial rapist, the alcoholic son of Stalin… everything was true!
I came out of the cinema a bit stunned. On the one hand, I expected a comedy and instead I laughed very little. On the other hand, I saw a film that showed me real but fictionalized facts, but so realistic that I thought that I saw a documentary (I do not think it’s a coincidence that the film has been banned in Russia) . Did I like The death of Stalin? Yes, I think so. Did I really understand what I saw? Maybe not … Do I recommend watching it? Yes, I do, and I’d like to talk about it with you! Ciao!
PS: Kudos to the director for not forcing all those non-Russian actors to speak with a fake Russian accent!